Twelve (12) awards were presented on Tuesday evening, November 15, 2022 during the Foundation’s annual meeting and Awards Reception at the Historic Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Roanoke. The Foundation promotes the protection and stewardship of historic, cultural, and natural resources in the Roanoke Valley through education and advocacy. “Recognition of people, programs and projects that help to promote good stewardship and preservation of these resources is an important part of achieving the mission of the Foundation,” explained Alison Blanton, Awards Committee co-chair. Named in honor of George Kegley, a founding member of the Foundation and Awards Committee Chair for many years before passing away earlier this year, the awards have been presented for more than 25 years. Blanton noted that this year’s list is one of the most diverse in terms of types of projects with an emphasis on heritage education, including five projects that promote a better understanding of local Black History. This year also introduces the Roberts Heritage Education Award for achievements in preserving the Black History of Roanoke. The award is named in memory of Margaret and Alice Roberts for their unrelenting commitment to documenting and preserving the history and achievements of the Black community in Roanoke. The Evelyn Bethel Award was first presented in 2021 to honor Bethels’ advocacy for the Gainsboro community and her role as a former RVPF president. These two special awards will be given when projects or accomplishments specifically reflect the passion of their namesakes.

The 2022 Kegley Preservation Awards announced are as follows:

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education
Say My Name: The Story of Amanda Jeffers, Roanoke 1864
(Betsy Biesenbach, author)

Long-time Roanoke resident Betsy Biesenbach’s work as a freelance writer for the Roanoke Times and as a real estate examiner sparked an incurable interest in local history, leading to countless hours scouring the archives of libraries and courthouses for answers to many of Roanoke’s architectural and historical mysteries. In 1984, she began researching the property her house stands on, which led her to the three Persinger brothers, each of whom, in the mid-1880s, inherited a large tract of land from their father, John, in what would eventually become Southwest Roanoke. The youngest brother, James, farmed the land that encompassed Betsy’s own Raleigh Court neighborhood. In 2021, Betsy also discovered that an enslaved girl named Amanda Jeffers was born there. Amanda’s parents were part of John Persinger’s estate, and after he apportioned his land between his sons, her entire family – including her father, mother, brother and sister – was divided between the three farms of the Persinger brothers. She and her father became the property of the oldest brother, Jacob, who lived on what is now the campus of Virginia Western Community College. Betsy conceived, researched, and wrote a children’s book, Say My Name: The Story of Amanda Jeffers as a local history lesson to present the truth of what it was like to be enslaved here during the Civil War. As Betsy stated, “The reading level is easy, but the ideas can be heavy and uncomfortable, and the book is best read within the family.”

Kegley Preservation Award for Historic Restoration
Melrose-Rugby Neighborhood Stone Pillar Entrance
(Melrose-Rugby Neighborhood Forum, Inc. & City of Roanoke, VA)

Shirley Bethel of the Melrose/Rugby Neighborhood Forum brought the deteriorating condition of the stone entrance pillars to the attention of RVPF for a 2022 Endangered Site. The Neighborhood Forum had been unsuccessful in finding funds or resources to get the repairs done. Built by Price Francisco in 1916, the historic entrance markers mean a great deal to those living in the neighborhood. The group had used a City grant to repair the pillars once before; however, that program no longer exists. Soon after the Endangered Sites announcement in May, the City responded by repairing the stone entrance pillars. Josh Johnson, with the Department of Neighborhood Services, found a descendant of the original stonemason to complete the work. We are pleased that the City stepped up and took care of the entrance markers so quickly and know that the neighborhood residents are happy to have them restored to their original grandeur.

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education

Colonel William Preston Memorial
(Fincastle Resolutions Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution & Botetourt County, VA)

The Fincastle Resolutions Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution along with Botetourt County and several other groups dedicated a memorial to Col. William Preston, a Botetourt County Revolutionary War hero on June 11, 2022, at the Botetourt County Greenfield Education and Training Center. According to SAR co-chair, Rupert Cutler, for more than 2 decades the SAR chapter and Botetourt County worked to raise the funds and complete the memorial which outlines Preston’s life and accomplishments in Virginia and the nation’s early history. The county was a full partner in the project, providing the site, some of the funding, co-sponsorship of the dedication ceremony, and perpetual care of the memorial as a county park. Other groups who worked on the project include Hill Studio, the Historic Greenfield Preservation Advisory Council and the William Preston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The project is a part of a plan to develop a larger historic park to recognize the significance of the area and Greenfield, Preston’s historic plantation and the people who lived and worked there. Daniel Thorp, VT history professor, said the memorial is a way for citizens to recognize Preston’s role in building the nation “He was one of a brave generation that did in fact risk their lives and their fortunes on the treasonous act of establishing the United States.” Thorp continued that the memorial must not only recognize the cost of the contribution of Preston’s family but also the displacement of Native Americans and the work of enslaved people who helped build the area.

Kegley Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse & Stewardship
Historic Fire Station No. 1
(Old School Partners, LLC, Roanoke, VA – David Hill, Dale Wilkinson, Greg Rhodes, David Spigle)

David Hill, Dale Wilkinson, Greg Rhodes, and David Spigle of Old School Partners II LLC completed the renovation of Roanoke’s iconic Fire Station No. 1 and celebrated its reopening on October 23, 2022. Built in 1908 in the heart of the City Market area, the Georgian-Revival style landmark with its bell tower stood as testimony to the rapid growth and prosperity of the city. I have a question about the façade of the station “What famous building is it modeled after? After 100 years in operation, the fire station closed in 2007 and stood vacant for more than a decade. Old School Partners purchased the landmark building from the City of Roanoke in 2019 and proceeded with a $2.5 million renovation to return the building to public use. Utilizing historic tax credits, the team worked with Hill Studio to carefully preserve5. the interior and exterior of the building – including the brass firepoles, horse-gnawed bricks, decorative tin ceilings, floating stairs, lockers and wood trim throughout – while sensitively providing upgrades to accommodate the new use and meet current building code. Most significantly, Old School Partners donated a preservation easement on the building to the Virginia Historic Resources Board to insure perpetual protection of this local landmark. Today, the iconic Fire Station No. 1 has a new life with retail space for TXTUR, a local furniture company, and a restaurant on the 1st floor as well as lodging on the 2nd floor.

Kegley Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse & Stewardship
James C. Sears

As President and General Manager of Center in the Square since 1993, Dr. Jim Sears is a well-known and beloved figure in Roanoke and was a driving force in the revitalization of downtown. Sears is a natural promoter of people, places, and institutions. Recently retired, he is recognized for making an undeniable mark on the historic fabric of Roanoke as he saw the potential of combining the rehabilitation of vacant historic buildings with the space needs of the cultural organizations of Center. In 1999, he spearheaded the $5.5 million renovation of the 1911 Shenandoah Hotel for adaptive reuse as lodging and rehearsal space for Mill Mountain Theater. The historic 1905 N&W Passenger Station was renovated in 2003 for the new $6 million O. Winston Link Museum and the Roanoke Valley Visitors’ Center. Sears was also instrumental in seeing that the Grand Piano Building, a gift to Center from the Cartledge family, was developed and restored privately to its former Art Deco grandeur in 2008 as apartments and first floor office space (now known as the Hancock Building). His impact on downtown Roanoke culminated with completion in 2013 of a $30 million remodeling of the Center complex, which includes both the 1914 McGuire Building on Market Square and the ca. 1900 Phelps and Armistead Building on Church Street. Under his leadership, Center has expanded since 1993 to five buildings and 12 organizations. As a nonprofit that is vital to the arts and culture of the valley and the economic growth of downtown, Center is ensured a bright future that will shine on our quality of life – thanks to Jim Sears.

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education
Gainsboro History Project
(Roanoke Higher Education Center, Roanoke, VA)

In 2022, the Roanoke Higher Education Center completed construction of a Central Walkway and Plaza connecting its buildings that honors the legacy of Gainsboro and shares historical events in seven themed categories from 1835 to 1970. In conjunction with development of a new campus Central Walkway and Plaza, the Roanoke Higher Education Center sponsored, funded, and developed an interactive history and walking tour of the African American influence in the historic Gainsboro Neighborhood in Roanoke, Virginia. With the assistance of the Gainsboro Library, this significant educational accomplishment provides online, web-access to more detailed, extensive information on the rich heritage of Gainsboro via a mobile web application. Recipient of the inaugural Roberts Heritage Education Award, the Gainsboro History Project is recognized for making the rich history of the community and early Roanoke more accessible to citizens locally and nationally.

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education
NORVEL: An American Hero
(Ken F. Conklin, author)

Ken F. Conklin’s biography, NORVEL: An American Hero, introduces us to one of Botetourt County’s most famous native sons, Norvel Lee, born near Eagle Rock, VA in 1924. During WWII Lee was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. After the war, he became an Olympic boxer winning the gold medal in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, becoming the first Black Virginian to win Olympic gold. Norvel is also known for taking a stand against segregation. While traveling home by train from the 1948 Olympics, he was asked to give up his seat in the white section and when he refused, he was arrested. Mr. Lee appealed his case and in 1949 the VA Supreme Court ruled in Lee’s favor in what became a landmark civil rights case. (7 years before Rosa Parks). As a result of Conklin’s research, a state historic road marker dedicated to the legacy of Norvel Lee was unveiled on Sept. 17, 2022, near Eagle Rock. According to Nelson Harris, Conklin enthusiastically supplied the needed information for the state application. Conklin’s advocacy of Lee’s story along with the efforts of Delegate Terry Austin resulted in Botetourt County getting a portion of US RTE 220 near Eagle Rock named in honor of Lee. Botetourt Supervisor Steve Clinton said at the marker dedication, “We’re about a half-century late in doing this, but today we carry on the essential process of recognizing Mr. Lee as Botetourt’s most famous son.” Ken Conklin brought this story to light with his book and his extensive research, and through his persistence the County became aware of Norvel Lee, a hometown hero.

Kegley Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse & Stewardship
Liberty Trust Building
(JS Project LLC, Roanoke, VA – Rupesh Patel)

JS Project LLC, under the leadership of Rupesh Patel, renovated the 1910 First National Bank/Liberty Trust Building, 101 S. Jefferson St., in spring 2022 for adaptive reuse as a boutique hotel. The seven-story, Classical Revival-style bank was heralded as the first skyscraper in Roanoke when it opened. Using historic tax credits, the project team of Balzer & Associates, Hill Studio and R.L. Price Construction worked to retain and repair the exterior of the building and the historic interior spaces of the entrance vestibule, stair/elevator lobby, banking lobby with mezzanine, and double-loaded corridor configuration on the upper floors. Character-defining features and finishes preserved include the marble floors and trim, decorative plaster and wood-coffered ceilings, the teller counters and bank vault, and the copper-faced doors and trim on the upper floors. Minor modifications were made to accommodate current building code requirements and the operations of a modern hotel. Specific preservation challenges included reconfiguring original and modified corridors and offices to accommodate hotel rooms, installing a new stair to meet egress requirements, and repairing the elaborate cornice and parapet. Forbes Magazine listed the hotel as one of the most highly anticipated hotels to debut in 2022.

Kegley Preservation Evelyn Bethel Award for Heritage Advocacy
Community Remembrance Project: Lynching Markers
(Roanoke Equal Justice Initiative / EJI Community Remembrance Project Coalition, Roanoke, VA – Brenda Hale)

The Roanoke Equal Justice Initiative or EJI Community Remembrance Project Coalition joined with city leaders and over 100 community members for the dedication of a historic marker to recognize the Sept. 21, 1893, lynching of Thomas Smith by an angry mob on the corner of Franklin Rd. and Mountain Ave. This effort by the Roanoke EJI Coalition is recognized for their advocacy for underrepresented history. “There are so many in Roanoke that know nothing about this incident,” said Brenda Hale, chairwoman of the coalition. “Folks, it has taken us 129 years to get to this point. We must never forget; we are here because of 3 years of work. We address racism every day of our lives …We must be united; we must do the things that we do because we cannot be quiet.” This marker is public acknowledgment of victim Thomas Smith’s seizure from authorities and brutal slaying. He had no trial, nor conviction, and authorities determined after his death that he played no role in an assault on a white woman. The marker project arose from an ongoing conversation about the City’s history and a shared desire to counteract racism. The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, AL, legal defense, and advocacy organization, provided the sign and local guidance through its community remembrance project. Soil was collected from below the marker and put into a jar to be sent to EJI headquarters in Montgomery which operates the National Memorial for Peace and Justice where more than 4,400 racial terror lynchings are documented.

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education
The Virginia Room
(Roanoke City Libraries, Roanoke, VA – Sheila Umberger)

As the primary public repository of historical and genealogical resources, the Virginia Room contains a wealth of the history of the Roanoke Valley and beyond. Researchers will agree that just about anything that you need to know about buildings, events and prominent citizens can be found in this section of the Roanoke City Main Library. Not only has the staff cataloged, filed and kept everything in excellent condition, they are working to digitize the collection to make it more accessible. Virginia Room staff members Dyron Knick and Edwina Parks go above and beyond assisting researchers looking for answers to questions about the past – regardless of how obscure that history may be. Dyron and Edwina do this with a sincere interest in what you want to find and take it as a personal mission for you to leave with your questions answered. The entire staff at the Virginia Room is dedicated to their jobs and performs them with the greatest of commitment. The combination of the historical records and the dedicated staff make the Virginia Room truly an irreplaceable resource for historical research in our region.

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education
Local History Outreach: K-12 and Lifelong Learning
(Salem Museum, Salem VA – Alex Burke & Garrett Channell)

Heritage education is a top priority for the staff at the Salem Museum. Alex Burke, Assistant Director, and Garrett Channell, Director of Archives and Education, share their high-energy passion for history to excite people of all ages and turn history-resisters into eager history learners. Their audiences include Salem and Roanoke County school groups, families, and adults, with a focus on local history. The exhibits, programs, and resources they have developed are designed to make history more meaningful, and therefore, more memorable. For more information about the Salem Museum’s educational exhibits, programs, videos, and SOL go to the excellent Museum website,

Kegley Preservation Roberts Award for Heritage Education
Histories of Enslavement at Roanoke College Walking Tour
(Roanoke College Center for Studying Structures of Race, Salem, VA – Dr. Jesse Butcher)

Under the direction of Dr. Jesse Butcher, the Center for Studying Structures of Race launched a self-guided walking tour brochure in October 2022. The “Histories of Enslavement at Roanoke College” walking tour traces the significant role that slavery played in the history of the college. In particular, the tour reveals how enslaved laborers and artisans worked on campus to construct campus structures, manufacture bricks, and maintain buildings. The tour also demonstrates how various campus spaces and structures memorialize individuals who owned enslaved human beings. The content of the tour emerged from the ongoing Genealogy of Slavery research project. This project brings together student and faculty researchers who use local archival collections to identify the history of enslavement in southwest Virginia. The 2022 summer research team is also publishing a “zine” that brings together student researchers’ thoughts and feeling about their collective experience conducting research on the enslaved in Roanoke County through interviews, poems, and art. A short, half-hour film about their research methodology, experiences, and results also debuted in October of 2022.

Additional information on the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation’s annual Kegley Awards Program is available on the Foundation’s Annual Kegley Awards website page.